Reading and writing (click here for more about my books) allow me to walk in the shoes of other people, and for that I sure am grateful!
Thank heaven for writers like Ariel Henley, a young woman who describes what it is to be born (in this case with her twin sister) with Crouzon Syndrome, a condition wherein the skull doesn’t evolve as it does for most of us. Along her journey that’s included countless surgeries, she’s ruminated on beauty in ways that most of us never consider.
Here’s my review of her book, “A Face for Picasso: Coming of Age with Crouzon Syndrome,” for Amazon and Goodreads:
Ariel Henley’s brave recount of growing up far beyond the absolutes of what society deems “conventional beauty” illustrates how truly limiting those confines are. Gorgeously and honestly written, she reminds us what each of us unfortunately needs to be reminded of over and over again. Our “shoulds” about our bodies don’t serve us unless they include our souls and our uniquenesses.
In the realm of fiction, Helene Tursten offers up Maude, an octogenarian who’s had it up to there with bad people. She’s a killer without remorse.
My review of Helene’s first small book of short stories about her, “An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good,” for Amazon and Goodreads:
Move over Olive Kitteridge (which I adored too, but in a different way). Maude’s fed up. She’s in her late 80s and she’s not taking it anymore… Such a rollick! The sequel is super charming too!
For the sequel, “An Elderly Lady Must Not be Crossed,” I offered:
Woman in her late 80’s is a killer. What’s not to like? #1 was great & this #2 is even more fun.
Today’s guest, Robert Pacilio, has self-published five novels of various genres — all after he retired from teaching! Find out more about him and his books, as well as to reach him for speaking engagements and book clubs, via his website.
Here he shares how he mined what he learned in Act I of his life to segue into his Act II…
Curtain’s up on ACT II by Robert Pacilio
Hello. I was born in 1955…that means that I am 67 years young. I started self-publishing my novels at 54. For 32 years, I was a high school teacher. That was ACT I. I loved teaching—I still love making a cameo appearance in another teacher’s classroom.
ACT I was a hit. I won numerous awards; however, the best reward was the love and respect of my students—which is why my next book is a memoir about those students and my impact on their lives. It is due out later this year.
I have always told stories—written and spoken, and as you read about my journey to ‘authorship’, you are likely to wonder how I got to “the Promised Land.”
Here is my answer: I didn’t get to the mythical land of the New York Times bestseller list. That is a mirage that seduces everyone with a word processor. If that is your endgame and nothing short of that is acceptable, then get used to rejection. Rejection. Rejection. (And I might add—those rejections will come in bland, form letters…if you receive anything at all.
So, you ask, why do I feel successful as a writer? How did my author’s biography indicate that this indie writer made a difference with his loyal readership? And just how did I even accumulate a readership? Let’s go back in time for the answers. Before we do, let’s discuss the latest trending word: nepo-babies.
Nepo-babies are not you or me. They do not need to read this or any other blog about being published. Why? Because they are (a) rich since their parents are rich; (b) children whose parents are famous; (c) they know people inside of the business of ‘publications’ because their parents do; (d) they went to Yale, Harvard, Stanford, etc., because their parents did, and they have ‘connections’; and finally (e) all the above.
That is not us, Gang. My parents were Tessie and Louie, Italians who came out of East New York (the non-glamorous side of Brooklyn in the 1940’s and 50’s).They graduated from high school and then spent a lifetime making a living in the world of hard knocks.
So if you are like me, just a hard working, regular person who learned his craft and then decided to have a second act as a writer, nobody–I mean nobody—is going to give you an unearned break. You have to earn it the old fashioned way—with grit and drive. No quitters make it and there are no short cuts for “tramps like us” (apologies to Springsteen).
Okay, still with me. Good. Flashback to 2007 when I decide to write a semi-autobiographical novel about a year in the lives four fictionalized students whose teacher just happens to be me. I wrote the novel as I was teaching American literature that year and it took a year. I had a close friend as my editor, not a professional but close enough at the time. Once done, I had a manuscript and I did what all writers do—head to Writers Market to query an agent.
It is said 50 rejections is typical. That’s what I received. Some advised me to turn it into a how-to- book because non-fiction sells. That was not my jam.
Out of the blue, a former student who graduated years before visits my classroom (this is during my final years of teaching), and he tells me he works for Createspace. I ask, “Is this is a vanity publication?”
He responds, “No. You do all the work, hire an internal book designer, a cover designer, and an editor, and when you are done, we produce the book. You receive 70% of the profit.”
And that’s how I got started. Createspace had a community I could tap into to hire an internal book designer. I had a graphic artist and photographer whom I worked with and joined my team. Within a few months, VOLIA—“Meetings at the Metaphor Café” was born!
How did I produce it? My designer (Tony Loton and based in London) uploaded the manuscript and the Kindle version. He charged me $1,000 roughly (in 2007), and since I was already a teacher in a large district as well as being the 1998 San Diego County Teacher of the Year, I had what they call a PLATFORM. This allowed me to speak at teacher conventions, other schools outside my district, and even travel outside my state of California as word spread. That novel was nominated by other teachers for the California Young Readers Award (the only one to be self-published). Needless to say, I didn’t win. Remember, I am an outsider.
From there I wrote a sequel to that YA (young adult) book and then I moved to a different genre—adult/romance (think Nicholas Sparks—not Danielle Steel). During that time, I still was querying agents, and one agent who was impressed with my dogged pursuit of a publisher for my first novel decided to take me on. “EUREKA!” I thought.
She asked me to make over 100 edits to the manuscript, and then she tried to sell it to publishers. But as you might have guessed there were no takers. Why? First, it was self-published and they felt that most buyers have already bought it. Second, it was not “real enough” meaning no sex, violence, gratuitous cursing (the f-word). I wanted teenagers to read this is class and for a Board of Education to approve the novel, which has happened. Nevertheless, publishers believed that kids would not read a story that was just about growing up and learning about life from a teacher who didn’t look like Michelle Phieffer.
So after a year of those rejections, we parted ways until my next adult novel “The Restoration” was completed. She told me to not self-publish until she read it. I did as she suggested. She asked me to make numerous changes, and after I followed her advice, she abruptly decided it was a romance, and she did not handle that genre. I know what you are thinking—you must have been very angry. I was. She apologized. End of story.
My next novel “Meet Me at Moonlight Beach” also didn’t get any agent interest although at this point I was none too interested in the run-around. But the novel sure did sell. It got the attention of the local columnist Karla Peterson of the San Diego-Union-Tribune and a front page review in its “Arts” section—with a picture, no less (40 copies sold just that day). The power of media is evidently impactful. The same week, the books was for sale at none other than Barnes and Noble! I was invited to speak there. All this happened in 2018 and 2019. The train was rolling down the tracks…then Covid made the world skid to a stop.
During the isolation of 2020 I wrote my latest novel a legal/political jury trial titled “Whitewash.” This time I made a concerted effort to snag an agent using Querytracker. I decided to query several hundred agencies, and from all that effort I received two “nibbles.” You should know that each query requires a different chapter sample, different versions of my biography, and introductory query letters to grab their agency’s attention… so it took months of diligent work. In the end, of the two that seemed interested, one just ignored me (after making me wait for two months) and the other agent took it to his higher-ups. They thought it wouldn’t sell. So another no-thank-you, Sir, moment. I proceeded to self-publish it, and it has done fairly well, despite the Covid quarantine all of us have been dealing with.
So what are the ways I get the word out? All of the following tasks paid some dividends:
- YouTube videos of me reading various sections of my novels, placed on Facebook, Twitter and any other social network with which I can engage.
- Speaking at as many conventions as possible is enormously helpful. Teachers, writers, service clubs, and church groups.
- Creating my own website www.robertpacilio.net and having a professional set it up on WIX. It has reviews of all my novels, links to video clips, and how to purchase any of my work, including how to order directly from me (and get a signed copy which I pay to ship it to the buyer). It also has a PayPal link for an easy purchase.
- Getting local media outlets to cover/review my books. The local newspapers that serve communities are really helpful and will work with a determined writer.
- Gathering all readers into a community and sending out newsletters updating what you are doing and where you will be speaking. Even small groups at a Starbucks work well. That is a way to get book clubs interested—especially if they know you can travel to them as I have.
- I have a former student who specializes in publicity, and she has taken me on as her pro-bono client. She organized the virtual book club meetings during Covid and interviewed me on a Facebook LIVE segment.
- I have spoken at Barnes and Noble and other bookstores. They demand a healthy cut in the profits but that is just the way it is.
- I have a tribe of loyal friends who act as readers of my manuscripts. They are so helpful, and they will spread the word. I also encourage folks to review my novels on Amazon.
- I have been on several podcasts. They help reach people outside your “zone” of influence.
The most important thing I can tell an indie or a person breaking into the writer’s Field of Dreams is that YOU HAVE TO BE ACTIVE AS YOUR OWN SALES FORCE. Nobody else can sell your work effectively. You can’t just write a book and sit back passively, hoping the droves of fans will line up for your John Hancock.
As for getting rich, I would say that self-publishing a book means you probably have to front about $1,000 to $2,000. If you work hard and your writing touches your audience, you will make that back and more. I’ve been fortunate to have a great team working with me for the last 13 years. Michelle Lovi in New Zealand has edited two of my novels and designed the interior and covers. I highly recommend her, and I will pass on her information to anyone who wishes to reach her.
I wish all of you luck and to remember that nothing comes easily—certainly not writing. Be open to revisions and do not be discouraged. The curtain rises on Act II and the person who raises that curtain is YOU. Break a leg.
Do you have plans to author a book? Will you seek an agent or publish it yourself?